Radiation research foundation to apologize for studying but not treating hibakusha

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Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF) Chairman Ohtsura Niwa

HIROSHIMA — The chairman of a joint Japan-U.S. research organization studying the long-term effects of radiation exposure on humans is expected to apologize to hibakusha — survivors of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — who were studied but generally not treated by the organization’s American predecessor, it has been learned.

Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF) Chairman Ohtsura Niwa will give his apology at a June 19 ceremony here commemorating the 70th anniversary of the organization’s establishment, to which hibakusha will be invited.

It is believed that this will mark the first time for a top RERF official to offer a direct, public apology to its subjects and those of its predecessor. “There’s an ironclad rule that one must develop relationships with human research subjects,” Niwa says. “But that sort of thinking didn’t exist in the 20th century. We must improve our relationships with hibakusha.”

Established in 1947 under the orders of U.S. President Harry Truman, the RERF’s predecessor, the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC), began to collect data on hibakusha in Hiroshima. The ABCC began similar studies on hibakusha in Nagasaki the following year. In both cities, subjects, as a rule, went untreated. Japanese authorities also took part in the research, following up on hibakusha years after they were exposed to the bombs. In 1975, the ABCC was reorganized into the bi-national RERF.

Hibakusha have said that the ABCC forcibly took them to research facilities where they were stripped to have their photos taken. Many have been angry with the ABCC for treating them like guinea pigs and violating their human rights, and the organization has long been criticized for gathering data from hibakusha but not treating them.

“Officially, the ABCC did not provide treatment, and instead ran tests on hibakusha and sent them home. It’s only natural that hibakusha harbor negative feelings toward the organization, and that they have had such feelings has been made clear from various records,” RERF Chairman Niwa told the Mainichi Shimbun. “I must apologize.”

There are no records of the organization’s past chairmen or other top officials directly apologizing to hibakusha, and the RERF says it is highly likely that Niwa’s apology will be the first.

In a speech at the outset of the upcoming ceremony, Niwa is expected to say something about the ample criticism and protest against the fact that researchers from the very country that dropped the atomic bombs had collected data from hibakusha, and that he is sorry that such an unfortunate period existed. Content similar to that of the planned speech was included in an RERF pamphlet published in 1995, but few people know about it.

As for hibakusha being stripped naked for tests and bereaved families being asked to donate the bodies of family members who died from radiation exposure, Niwa says, “The U.S. side was not knowledgeable about Japanese culture and traditions, so there was cultural friction. But such steps were necessary for the sake of science.”

Satoru Ubuki, a member of a committee for the preservation of historical records at the RERF, a former Hiroshima Jogakuin University professor, and an expert on the history of atomic bombing, said of the upcoming apology, “The RERF probably determined that to continue conducting research on second- and third-generation hibakusha, it will be more likely to gain their cooperation if the organization apologizes.”

Meanwhile, Nagoya University researcher Hiroko Takahashi, who is well-versed in the ABCC, says, “While there is significance to reflecting on and offering regret for the past, the remarks (Niwa makes) must not justify all research carried out by the RERF. The organization receives funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, and just as the ABCC had military objectives, that fundamental characteristic of the organization remained even after the RERF succeeded the ABCC. Among the data that was sent to the U.S. military in the early days of the RERF are many whose purpose remains unclear, so studies conducted at the time should be verified with the participation of a third party.

https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170617/p2a/00m/0na/016000c

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A-bomb survivors submit petition for nuclear ban

 

Representatives of Japanese atomic bomb survivors have compiled a petition of nearly 3 million signatures calling for a nuclear weapons ban treaty. The group handed the document to the chair of the ongoing UN meeting on the convention.

The second round of negotiations aimed at concluding the world’s first-ever nuclear weapons ban treaty started on Thursday at UN headquarters in New York.

On the second day of talks on Friday, representatives of atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Toshiyuki Mimaki and Masako Wada presented the petition to the chair of the meeting, Costa Rica’s envoy Elayne Whyte. They say their groups collected 2.96 million signatures over just more than a year since last April.

Wada handed the petition over along with a paper crane, a symbol of peace. She said the signatures represent the voices of atomic bomb survivors and citizens, and thanked the chair for her leadership.

Whyte responded that the main purpose of the treaty is to eliminate the suffering caused by nuclear weapons. The representatives applauded her when she said the signatures are very important for the negotiators.

After the handover, Wada observed that the draft treaty incorporates the Japanese word “hibakusha,” meaning atomic bombing survivor. She said she believes this shows the delegates have recognized the group’s long years of anti-nuclear activities.

Also in New York, atomic bomb survivor Masao Tomonaga from Nagasaki met Japan’s UN Ambassador Koro Bessho to relay a message from the Nagasaki mayor, Tomihisa Taue.

The message described a feeling of disappointment that is spreading among Nagasaki citizens over Japan’s absence from the negotiations.

Tomonaga said Bessho told him he understands their feeling, but Japan cannot decide on its own to leave the nuclear umbrella, and has had to make a difficult choice regarding the ongoing talks.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20170617_15/